De Francis' Va. site challenged

January 08, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

The legal war over the license to build Virginia's first pari-mutuel racetrack is about to begin.

James J. Wilson, chairman of the board of the Virginia Jockey Club -- which is proposing to build a track on 640 acres in Prince William County -- is planning to file a protest next week with the Virginia Racing Commission over Joe De Francis' recent decision to move the site of his proposed track to a location near Dulles Airport.

Wilson said last night that De Francis violated commission rules by not naming the site in his original application, filed Oct. 1, 1993.

"As far as we are concerned, the rules are clear," Wilson said. "The gate closed on Oct. 1 when complete applications had to be filed."

At that time De Francis listed two possible Virginia sites: one in New Kent County, between Richmond and Williamsburg, the other in Loudoun County at a site identified as the Ashburn Center.

But when amendments to the original applications were filed Monday, De Francis changed sites, selecting one in Loudoun County called "Glenwood East," located across the road from the Ashburn tract.

"There is not even a gray area in this matter," De Francis said yesterday in response to Wilson's claim. "It is black and white. There is no prohibition against a site amendment. I think what Wilson is doing is the act of a desperate man. He obviously has no confidence in his ability to get the license."

Wilson, however, said he firmly believes De Francis is "not playing by the rules. In essence, what he did on Oct. 1 was submit two applications, and now he is submitting a third. When we put our application in on Oct. 1, we had selected a site. Then between Oct. 1 and Jan. 3, we got our [zoning] permit and the money, and we're ready to go. De Francis has already admitted he didn't submit a complete application because the location of his new site needs to be re-zoned. That could take from six months to a year."

George Barton, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said that although the Glenwood East site is zoned for industrial and commercial use and would need to be changed a "special activities" permit, "that's not a big leap . . . and I don't see any major stumbling blocks as far as we are concerned" for De Francis.

Wilson has retained the Richmond law firm of Leclair, Ryan, Joynes, Epps and Framme to handle the matter.

"What I really think Mr. De Francis ought to do is stay at home and pay more attention to his own business of trying to run a good operationbefore he attempts to cross state borders," Wilson said.

De Francis replied: "We went through this whole song and dance in Texas when we helped obtain the license there for the Lone Star Jockey Club. All of a sudden everybody who thinks it would be great to own a racetrack becomes an expert. The only people with that kind of experience in Texas was us and Hollywood Park. And the only people in Virginia with the needed expertise are us and Churchill Downs.

"I'd like to know what experience Wilson has in operating tracks that put on a major Triple Crown race or that generate $400 million a year in gross betting receipts."

John Shenefield, Virginia Racing Commission chairman, said the board has no procedures "other than administrative law" to follow in dealing with Wilson's proposed protest.

"I don't want to speculate on what we'll do until the whole board meets," Shenefield said. "Maybe we'll take it up when we meet on Wednesday if some action has been taken by then."

Shenefield said he is not surprised by Wilson's planned protest. "I knew things would start to be different when the crowd attending our meetings began to change from horsemen to mostly lawyers and bankers. That tells you something."

In addition to Wilson, De Francis and Churchill Downs, Arnold Stansley, Jeffrey Taylor and a group called the Virginia Racing Associates are vying for the Virginia license.

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